A tale of deux cities
Saturday, April 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:28 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Artist Leslie Chalfont paints in her studio at the new Orr Street Studios in downtown Columbia. She shares her studio space with three other artists.

Dareth Goettemoeller believes Columbia has arrived at a pivotal moment in its effort to become an arts and culture center for mid-Missouri and beyond.

When it comes to arts and culture, the city in recent years has managed to paint a bright picture for the future.


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The Columbia Festival of the Arts is entering its 12th year and grows larger every fall. The Columbia Art League’s annual Art in the Park set a record last year, its 45th, when it attracted 99 visual artists to Stephens Lake Park for the weekend event. In only its fourth year, the True/False Film Festival, held in early March, sold about 14,600 tickets, and organizers David Wilson and Paul Sturtz have been spreading the word to attract more attention. They even visited New York’s Greenwich Village in August to show a few favorite films from the festival.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Theatre is getting closer to realizing its long-standing goal of creating a downtown center for the arts. And art studios have become favorite ventures in the central city. Orr Street Studios opened in the formerly abandoned Watkins Roofing warehouses earlier this year, giving a big boost to the dream of developing downtown’s North Village as a haven for the arts. Stephanie Lyons hopes to open more studios in the old Diggs meat-packing plant off Rogers Street this summer.

In spite of all that progress, Goettemoeller, an art therapist, said the city has a ways to go.

“Columbia is at the point right now where it will explode as the center of arts and culture, or we’re going to flop,” she said. “Things are getting started, and if there isn’t enough momentum to keep moving forward, it just falls totally apart.”

Goettemoeller said the Orr Street Studios are a good example of where Columbia’s art community is really starting to blossom. She worries, though, that people don’t yet view Columbia as an arts and culture center. If that doesn’t happen soon, she said, it could stunt the community’s growth in the arts realm.

For Columbia to succeed, Goettemoeller said, it must establish networks with other arts centers so “when people come to Columbia, they know it’s a place of art.”

As the community works together to create a new vision for the city, arts and culture is high on the list of areas to explore. The citizen topic group assigned to arts and culture had a couple of good ideas, including creation of a Chamber of the Arts that would support artists the same way the Chamber of Commerce supports businesses. The overriding goal, the group says, is to make arts and culture accessible and central to daily life in our city.

But some have even higher hopes, especially in the performing arts.

Homer Page, a member of the city’s Disabilities Commission, believes a concert hall or other large-venue performing arts building would be a perfect addition to the city.

“This could increase the draw to downtown and boost its surrounding economy,” Page said, adding that Columbia is lucky to have three colleges that help fuel arts and culture initiatives.

“The city should branch off these programs,” he said.

Chase Asmussen, 22, a musician with the band Pretty Please and an employee of Jingo’s Chinese restaurant, also thinks the city should do more to attract high-profile concerts. He’d like to see an outdoor theater and concert venue that “incorporates nature with music and art.”

An outdoor arena, properly built and marketed, could attract audiences from around the world and give local musicians a chance to gain significant exposure, Asmussen said.

Borislav Balaban, who came to Columbia from Yugoslavia, said he, too, would like to see Columbia host more international events, such as festivals featuring musicians and dancers from all over the world.

MU student Patrick Martin, 20, longs for more art galleries and professionally produced theater downtown, “some real good theater, something a little bit different, not just student-run.”

“I wish the Missouri Theatre was better,” Martin said.

Matt Richmond, a 20-year-old who makes pizzas for Gumby’s, wants to pursue a career in filmmaking. But that’s tough in Columbia, he said. So he plans to move to New York someday to shadow a director. That might not be necessary if MU offered a film major, he said.

Business owner Cindy Mutrux said Columbia’s fairs and festivals already make it an attractive destination for arts enthusiasts. The city, she said, is blessed to have a lot of people with crafts skills to make the events happen.

Still, Mutrux, an avid scrapbooker, said she’s always looking for more craft stores. She would also like to have a place in Columbia where families could go and experience the arts together.

“I like to be able to go in and look at art, and also go in and experience the art, like in paint, music and chalk,” Mutrux said.

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